|Sen. John McCain
Sen. John McCain, who after years in the U.S. military went on to serve 35 years in Congress, has died at the age of 81 due to glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumor.
The son and grandson of four-star Navy admirals, he volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam war upon graduating from the Naval Academy.
He was famously shot down over Hanoi suffering two broken arms and a shattered leg, and was a prisoner of war for five and a half years. During that time he rejected early release ahead of his fellow prisoners.
After retirement from the Navy, he ran for and won two terms in the House of Representatives beginning in 1983 and then six terms in the U.S. Senate.
His was a career of extreme highs and lows. He ran for president twice – losing the Republican nomination to George W. Bush in 2000, and then losing the general election in 2008 to Barack Obama.
But his 2008 run for the White House was marred by a series of bad decisions, most prominently selecting the half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Many in politics today point to that moment as the beginning of a surge of unqualified, untempered candidates that opened the door to the election of Donald Trump.
And in the waning days of the election, as the country became mired in financial crisis, he declared the ‘fundamentals of the economy’ were strong.
While there’s no doubt that McCain was a conservative through and through, one of the hallmark’s of his long career in service was his distinct ability to change with the times.
Although he spent years opposing LGBTQ rights, like his longtime opposition to openly gay and lesbian military personnel, he would go on to become a defender of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.
And six years after it’s repeal, he opposed an amendment to a defense spending bill that could have undercut an executive order by President Obama that banned LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. The amendment would eventually be stripped out of the bill.
In 2013, the self-described ‘maverick’ was one of only ten Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In his home state of Arizona, he was highly critical of a proposed “license to discriminate” bill.
In 2015, he gave his full-throated support to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Fanning, who became the first openly gay Secretary of the Army.
And when Donald Trump proposed a complete ban on transgender military service members last year, McCain stepped up early vigorously opposing the policy, saying in a statement, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”
His last ‘maverick moment’ of his career came when he dramatically gave a thumbs-down on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act last year.
In September of last year, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him how he wanted to be remembered.
“He served his country and not always right,” McCain responded. “Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably.”
President Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton issued this statement:
Senator John McCain believed that every citizen has a responsibility to make something o the freedoms given by our Constitution, and from his heroic service in the Navy to his 35 years in Congress, he lived by his creed every day.
He was a skilled, tough politician as well as a trusted colleague alongside whom Hillary was honored to serve in the Senate. He frequently put partisanship aside to do what he thought was best for the country, and was never afraid to break the mold if it was the right thing to do.
I will always be especially grateful for his leadership in our successful efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Cindy, his mother, Roberta, his children, and his entire family.
And from President Obama:
John McCain and I were members of different generations, came from completely different backgrounds, and competed at the highest level of politics. But we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher-the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.
We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible – and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.
Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
“Senator McCain was a patriot and a hero, whose life was defined by his service and sacrifice on behalf of our country.
“While we disagreed on many issues, later in his career, he became an increasingly vocal advocate for LGBTQ servicemembers.
“In the last few years, Senator McCain blocked anti-LGBTQ language in the National Defense Authorization Act, opposed a ‘license to discriminate’ bill in Arizona, denounced the Trump-Pence Administration’s effort to ban transgender troops and spoke out against the nomination of the anti-LGBTQ Mark Green to lead the Army.
“We join with millions of Americans in mourning his loss, and extend our deepest condolences to Senator McCain’s wife, Cindy, and his entire family.”
Donald Trump, a five-time draft dodger who criticized McCain during the 2016 campaign and questioned if he really was a war hero (“I like people who didn’t get captured”) refused to apologize to McCain in his last days.
As American leaders hailed McCain tonight, all Trump could muster this evening was a tepid tweet which read, “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
(h/t The New York Times)
(image via PBS News Hour/Flickr – CC license)